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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA)
December 28, 1994
Author: JIM MCKINNON, POST-GAZETTE STAFF WRITER
A Washington County man charged with throwing a bucket of corrosive drain cleaner on his wife and children yesterday lost his bid to visit his children.
Washington County Common Pleas Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca denied John Stasko Jr.’s request to visit his three children, Heather, 11, John III, 9, and Steven, 4. The youngest boy was not hit by the chemical, which police said contained sulfuric acid.
Stasko, 42, is a former convict who served 17 years in prison for the 1975 stabbing death of Bernadette Demeter, 20, a former girlfriend who wanted to end their relationship.
He was released from prison in 1992 and married Susan Stasko. Later, she too wanted to end the relationship. On March 17, when Susan Stasko rebuked his attempts to persuade her to stay with him, Stasko threw a bucket of drain cleaner on her while she was playing with her children in their Coal Center home.
The fluid caused third-degree burns to Susan Stasko’s face, back, legs and an arm, and it has caused blindness in one eye. Susan Stasko spent 66 days in the burn unit at Mercy Hospital.
John Stasko is being held in the Washington County Jail on charges of attempted homicide, aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and endangering the welfare of children.
He had petitioned Washington County Common Pleas Court for visitation rights. At a hearing yesterday Seneca heard testimony from Dr. Timothy Landis, a psychiatrist who examined the children on behalf of Susan Stasko.
While the children are recovering from the physical scars caused by the drain cleaner, Landis said, it could be six months before they overcome the emotional trauma. Then they may be able to visit their father without any further harmful emotional affects.
The children did not testify yesterday. But at the Dec. 14 session, Seneca spoke with them in her chambers and considered their responses in her ruling yesterday, said a spokeswoman in her office.
Seneca said two of the children told her that they wanted to see their father. Heather said her mother would have to be present if that happened.
Dr. Timothy Landis, a University of Pittsburgh psychiatrist who interviewed the children, said John told him that seeing his father would make him “too sad.”
John Stasko is scheduled for trial Feb. 6 on the criminal charges before Judge Thomas D. Gladden, who presided and sentenced Stasko in the 1975 homicide.
Stasko has testified that he suffers from depression and that since June, he had been prescribed Prozac as part of his treatment.
Stasko, through the Washington County public defender’s office, has filed notice that he plans a defense claiming insanity or infirmity, said Assistant District Attorney Paul Petro.
Seneca said she ruled against the visits in part because the children could be witnesses at the trial. She said she is also concerned about Stasko’s statement that he has been depressed recently.
Stasko said he will continue to seek custody of the children as his trial date approaches. He last saw them 10 months ago.
Susan Stasko is awaiting extensive plastic surgery on her face. She also has testified that she has to be fitted with a glass eye because Stasko tried to gouge her eye out while he beat her after dousing her with the drain cleaner. She opposes any visitation for John Stasko.
Correction: CORRECTION/CLARIFICATION * * The following CORRECTION/CLARIFICATION appeared on December 29, 1994: John Stasko spent nearly eight years in prison for killing his former girlfriend and was released in December 1982. Two Post-Gazette articles — on Dec. 15 and 28 — regarding his petition in Washington County seeking visitation rights with his children after being charged with throwing drain cleaner on them and his wife reported an incorrect period of his prison time served. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Record Number: 9403100524
Copyright (c) 1994 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette